Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened (2006)

Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened – PC (2006)

This entry is part 3 of 11 in the series Sherlock Holmes (Frogwares)

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Italy Box Art

Poland Box Art

Thing changed up for the third game. Things changed up a lot. Returning to the first person perspective, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened is a mixture of classic Sherlock Holmes adventure and Lovecraft horror thriller. That should not be a formula that works, but it does, and the game has managed to carve out a place for itself not just in its series, but also in the genre as a whole. Heck, it’s so unique and stands out so much in the earlier catalog that Frogwares isn’t done with it yet.

Sherlock Homes: The Awakened (2023 Remake)

They recently had a fundraiser to raise funds to create a remake of the title, retrofitting it to be a sequel to their most recent series release (as of writing), Chapter One. Hard to say how different this version will be, we’ll find out eventually. It’s also technically not the first remake, as the studio released a remastered version in 2008 that adds in a third person point and click perspective if preferred, among other touches. That will also be the version in screenshots here, as this is the version up on modern digital storefronts. It even marks the era of the crossover era of the series, where we have a trilogy of releases based around Sherlock going up against a force from outside his franchise of stories.

The story starts sometime in the future, with Watson having nightmares over the case. We then go back in time for the story proper, as Holmes and Watson end up taking a case to find a missing Maori servant. This leads them to the docks, which eventually reveals the immigrants of London are being preyed on by a mysterious group who worship some sort of dark god. So starts a globe trotting investigation to figure out where the immigrants have been taken and save them before something horrible happens to them. That’s not even getting into the more troubling aspects of the case, where Sherlock Holmes may end up dealing with something paranormal and beyond his understanding.

The atmosphere in this game is worlds above the previous entries, taking full advantage of the new subject matter. The score is now mostly moody ambiance, darkness and shadows are used to create a dreadful atmosphere, and there’s some gore and blood sprinkled in at points to make clear just how serious this new scenario is. While the game isn’t an outright horror game, it has its moments, and uses them to great effect to catch you off guard with just the right timing.

There are also jokes, and lots of them. A sailor complaining about wiping his ass with his hook hand, a chase scene in Louisiana set to jaunty banjo music, many an instant of Sherlock making Watson look like a blind fool with complete disinterest (expect to see this joke a lot more in later games). There’s even a plot detail that seems like it’s suggesting a cult is getting people to drink corrupting liquid…and it turns out to just be rancid bootleg turnip wine made by a local bootlegger (clearly the turnips just need to fester in gutter water more). This is what makes the game work, funny enough.

Lovecraft horror has an inherently silly side to it, something Lovecraft story fans tend not to engage with. I mean, the core of the horror is often fish people existing (the horror). This makes it funny when Lovecraft inspired works lean into that silliness, and The Awakened leans into that for needed levity to balance the darker subject matter. This original version doesn’t want to be pure horror, but a horror themed adventure. This means while we still get an effective main plot with a core mystery and heavy stakes, getting us on board to help Sherlock get to the bottom of it to save innocent lives, we aren’t wallowing in misery. People are still doing stuff, and a lot of that stuff is stupid and silly. You’re allowed to catch your breath, still keeping stakes, but avoiding bogging you down in despair. It works out well.

What works out less is the other aspects of Lovecraft’s fiction working its way in. The game seems to be at odds with its themes of racism and dehumanization, making clear the main cult is horrible for brainwashing its captives, but still relying on stereotypes for characterizing people of color you meet. It never reaches an offensive level, but there is an awkwardness in how the game tip toes around the history of racism core to its story without ever directly commenting on it. The Louisiana chapter is the most awkward, doing a lot to make out a white landowner in the South with two non-white servants as an okay guy, which, if you know your history, was probably not likely.

The asylum section is also pretty horribly offensive, the team leaning into offensive stereotypes of mentally ill people for shock horror, a staple of the genre that has yet to fully die out. It stings less because Sherlock empathizes with a few of the asylum patients, and you do end up saving them, but, I mean, they still kept in a bit where a woman talks to a doll and explains how she decapitated someone and its all framed as a joke. Also, did you need to make one of the villains a browned skin man wearing a fez? Like, come on. Kind of damning of the whole wider Lovecraft fiction scene that this is still on the less offensive end of the spectrum for these sorts of stories. Ultimately works, but there are moments that were poorly aged, even at the time.

The game proper is designed a good bit differently from Silver Earring, initially released with just first person controls (the remaster added a traditional point and click camera option). You’re expected to look around to find items and objects you can interact with, first person view having little icon pop ups when near. There’s some bits that take advantage of the full view of movement, including that aforementioned chase sequence and its many objects you have to use to create paths.

Investigation has been greatly downplayed this entry in exchange for a more traditional adventure game set up. You’ll mostly be exploring, finding items, and doing the odd puzzle, most of them solid stuff. A lot of the focus is on making atmospheric spaces for you to explore. Even if your ability to interact is limited, they’re all a great deal of fun to go through and take in. It adds to the story being told, every new place with a unique flavor.

There are also plenty of moments calling back to previous entries. The Louisiana chapter has a long investigation in a mansion with an elaborate puzzle lock, for example, which works both as a mechanical breather and a major plot beat as the stakes rise even further. It’s impressive that the team managed to pull off such a delicate balance. This entry has a good bit of variety to keep things from getting stale, including a swamp maze on a boat, and the end result is one entry that’s difficult to put down.

The last chapter does go on a bit, though. The set-piece at the end is fine, but most of that chapter is spent exploring a dark cavern with little of interest visually. It’s also where the more thin item and environment puzzles really start to become apparent in how simple most are, because so many of them are strung together. The actual writing is great this chapter, at least, becoming a full on dark comedy for a lot of it.

The remaster version also suffers from some technical issues not encountered with the other crossover game remasters. The mouse often got stuck for a moment in both camera styles, not making the game unplayable, but a bit frustrating at odd moments. The UI is also not properly scaled for widescreen systems, so a lot of it looks stretched out and shoddy.

With The Awakened, Frogwares had proven they could do all sorts of things with the franchise, every entry so far having a different tone, design focus, and atmosphere to it. Their Sherlock Holmes series had legs, and could go in any direction the team pleased with little issue. They’d make that perfectly clear with the forth game, changing tact again for a comedic romp chasing down the famed gentlemen thief, Arsène Lupin.

Series Navigation<< Sherlock Holmes: Secret of the Silver EarringSherlock Holmes: Nemesis >>

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